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Stuffed Calamari

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I don’t have a ton of experience cooking calamari, but I know there are two cooking styles that yield a tender texture: cook it quickly over high heat (like flash frying), or cook it for a long time over low heat.  Well, that is what I have read; I’ve tried the first approach before, and the result was pretty rubbery.  So, when I found this recipe for stuffed calamari, simmered in tomato sauce, I was a bit skeptical.  Nonetheless, the recipe sounded too interesting to pass; I took my chances, and was pleasantly surprised.

This recipe is made by stuffing calamari (i.e. squid) bodies, with a garlicky filling of shrimp, bread crumbs, and wine, and then simmering them in tomato sauce over very low heat for about 45 minutes.  The process of stuffing the calamari is a bit tedious (the recipe took me over two hours from start to finish), but the texture of the slow-cooked calamari is unparalleled.  It was perfectly springy and toothsome, without the slightest sense of chewiness.  We ate this entire meal without using knives.

The original recipe calls for a specific kind of Italian bread sticks, called black-pepper taralli, as the basis for the filling.  I could not find them at Whole Foods, nor did I have the patience to pulse them in a food processor to yield the requisite crumbs.  Actually, that is a lie.  I didn’t even look for them; they sounded too exotic, and I wasn’t in the mood for the extra step.  Sometimes I’m surly when I cook.  I used Italian seasoned panko with a lot of black pepper added, and it worked out fine.

When buying your calamari, ask for the biggest calamari bodies available.  This isn’t mandatory, but it will help your process.  Whole Foods only had small to medium sized bodies when I made this, and it was manageable, but took more time to stuff.  One thing to keep in mind: grossly understuff your calamari because the filling will expand significantly.  You probably only need to fill them about a third to half full.  Not only will it prevent stuffing leaks, but it will make your stuffing process less tedious.  I also recommend taking the extra step of sealing off the calamari with a toothpick.  I deemed this step unnecessary, but I lost a lot of filling to the sauce.  This had no impact on overall flavor, but it made the presentation a bit messy.  You can see in the picture below clumps of filling that exploded into the sauce.  This was also because I over-stuffed them.

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This is an unusual recipe, and it was worth the effort.  I served the stuffed squid over orzo in wide, shallow bowls, and the result was a unique comfort food.  It certainly wasn’t the prettiest thing I ever made, but it was delicious.  The best part was the texture of the calamari.  I feel like I have opened Pandora’s box of cooking squid.  This low-slow cooking method was so successful, I might be making a calamari stew this weekend.

Stuffed Calamari (adapted from New York Times Cooking)

For the calamari:

  • 1 cup Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs
  • 1 ½ pounds large squid, cleaned, bodies and tentacles separated
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • Red-pepper flakes, to taste
  • ¾ pound peeled shrimp, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4-1/2 cup dry white wine
  • ½ teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

For the sauce:

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Red-pepper flakes, to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 handful Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  1. In a food processor, pulse the squid tentacles to chop them fine, and pat them dry with paper towels.
  2. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. When shimmering, add the squid tentacles, and spread them out. Sear until golden brown, about 5 minutes, then add the butter, garlic, and red-pepper flakes to taste. Cook, stirring, until the garlic just starts to color, about 1 minute.
  3. Add the shrimp, season with salt and cook until just pink, about 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of wine, and simmer for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, and stir in the panko, lemon zest, parsley, and lots of black pepper. The crumbs should look like wet, clumpy sand. If the mixture is too dry, sprinkle in a little more wine, and allow the filling to cool until just warm.
  4. Stuff each squid body with the filling, leaving the bottom and top inches unfilled (the stuffing will expand as it cooks). Secure the tops with toothpicks, and season all over with salt.
  5. Make the sauce: In a wide, deep pan, warm 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Add red-pepper flakes to taste and the garlic, and cook until fragrant and just beginning to color. Add the wine, and let it reduce by half.  Then stir in the tomatoes, and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Bring the tomatoes to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the sauce for 15 minutes. Add the calamari and any extra stuffing, and bring back to a very gentle simmer.
  7. Cover the pan, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat to make sure the sauce maintains a lazy bubble. Adjust with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with the parsley. Serve with bread or pasta.


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